It's the bad science meme.
Everything from that Daily Mail article about how even the tiniest amount of alcohol will kill you to the infographic about how vaccines are basically child abuse, bad science seems to be ruling our feeds and our "news" sources. So does chocolate really fight cancer, or does it give you cancer? What about eggs or coffee? Not even mainstream media can decide. So how can you arm yourself against sharing nonsense?
1. Don't Share Infographics:
Most infographics I personally have seen boast exaggerated claims, distorted graphs, or worse, claims that are completely false and potentially dangerous.
2. Learn Your Studies:
Duke has a really great breakdown of the different kinds of studies that can be performed. Case series and Case reports "consist of collections of reports on the treatment of individual patients or a report on a single patient." These are a great start for looking for answers; for example, the case study of Henry Molaison got researchers started on the path to learning more about the parts of the brain and how they work. But the study needed significantly more information. The plural of case studies are the case control studies. They are "studies in which patients who already have a specific condition are compared with people who do not have the condition." These again are a great starting place, but correlation, remember, does not always imply causation.
Cohort studies are a step up from any of the case studies. They "identify a group of patients who are already taking a particular treatment or have an exposure, follow them forward over time, and then compare their outcomes with a similar group that has not been affected by the treatment or exposure being studied." These are observational studies, and rely heavily on people being honest about whether or not they took their medications, ate within the meal plan assigned to them, or actually exercised the assigned 35 minutes a day.
At the top of the pyramid for single studies is the randomized controlled clinical trial. These studies control for potential bias and other statistics that might effect outcome, have control groups, and are among the the most reliable of single studies. "A randomized controlled trial is a planned experiment and can provide sound evidence of cause and effect." If your infographic or article is based on the knowledge found in a randomized controlled trial, you can usually count on the evidence as being at least mostly true. Always read the study; sometimes the article or infographic written about the study is not an accurate depiction of what the study actually found.
Multiple study reviews are also a kind of study. Both systematic reviews and meta-analyses are studies of studies that pick a group of studies and compare the data in all of them. These are also really great source of knowledge; the researchers will usually have a set of criteria that the studies must meet to be included, like third-party non-bias data collection or the inclusion of control groups.
If you are thinking of sharing that newest article about how orange juice is going to make all of the children go blind or that GMOs killed a thousand people a year, pause for a moment and do a little research. Look at the article's source material and Google other reliable sources for similar stories that look a little less inflammatory. Think about it critically. If green coffee extract really makes you lose weight without changing your diet or exercise, wouldn't everyone be talking about it all the time? It would be a miracle. So why is no one taking about it? Because it doesn't actually work.
The spreading of pseudo-science is one of the biggest problems plaguing our social media accounts. In an effort to clean up or Facebook and Twitter feeds of nonsense, you need to also do your part. Check your facts before posting them, no matter how neat that blueberry cure for acne or the okra water cure for diabetes may seem.